The Harvey Mudd College Alumni Association Board of Governors (AABOG) has announced its annual awards, which recognize impact on Harvey Mudd College as well as service to society. The awards will be presented Saturday, May 2, during the College’s annual Alumni Weekend festivities.
The Board of Governors selected three alumni—Jim Erickson ’75, Andrew Lees ’75 and Gregory Rae ’00—to receive the Harvey Mudd College 2015 Outstanding Alumni Award. Given from alumni to alumni, the award recognizes individuals who have made a sustained and effective commitment to improving society and whose lives best exemplify the mission of Harvey Mudd College.
Jim Erickson ’75
An internationally recognized expert in the field of space operations and program management, Jim Erickson is the project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Over his 40-year career at JPL, he has helped oversee the Mars Exploration Rovers (Spirit and Opportunity), NASA’s Galileo mission to Jupiter, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter project and the Mars Science Laboratory Rover Curiosity. He also assisted with and led development efforts on the Viking missions to Mars, the Voyager missions to outer planets and the Mars Observer mission.
Erickson began his tenure with JPL in 1974 during a summer internship while studying physics at Harvey Mudd. He earned his master’s degree in business administration and project management from West Coast University before embarking on an exemplary career in planetary space mission development. He’s known for technical expertise in handling spacecraft anomalies—identifying and repairing complex robots from millions of miles away—as well as in ground system development, building flight software, running operations teams in flight and overall program management. Erickson is the recipient of several notable industry awards, including the NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal, the NASA Exceptional Service Medal and two NASA Outstanding Leadership Medals.
Andrew Lees ’75
An esteemed research scientist and world-recognized leader in vaccine development, Andrew Lees founded Fina BioSolutions, a company committed to eliminating vaccine-preventable deaths of infants and children in emerging-market countries. With major partners in China and India, Lees is helping to create locally produced, affordable vaccines worldwide.
Lees is responsible for chemical improvements to protein-polysaccharide conjugate vaccines, some of the most complex vaccines to manufacture, but also known for producing stronger and longer-lasting results than those comprised of polysaccharides alone. His techniques have resulted in a better method for synthesizing conjugate vaccines for fatal childhood diseases such as Haemophilus influenza type-b, meningococcal disease and streptococcal pneumoniae.
Lees is also an associate professor of medicine at the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine in the Center for Vaccine Development. In addition, he is an associate professor in the Department of Medicine at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and an affiliate at the University of Maryland Bioprocessing Scale-Up Facility. He received his chemistry degree from Harvey Mudd College and PhD in biophysics from Johns Hopkins University.
Gregory Rae ’00
Gregory Rae embodies the College’s commitment to training great scientists and engineers also well versed in the humanities. After graduating from Harvey Mudd with a degree in computer science and mathematics, Rae joined Google’s Log Analysis Group in 2000, helping to develop the Zeitgeist tool, which utilizes proprietary algorithms to garner critical information about top-trending global news. Rae’s work contributed directly to the global good and to Google’s early success.
Since leaving Google in 2006, Rae has been at the forefront of social movements critical to protecting the rights of the LGBT community. He was a national leader for the Living Liberally movement and worked on several state and national campaigns dedicated to marriage equality, including as technical lead on California’s “No on Proposition 8” and treasurer for “Fight Back New York.” He is a member of the National Leadership Council of Lambda Legal in support of LGBT civil rights.
Rae has been a committed supporter of the performing arts. He is a Tony Award-winning producer of major Broadway productions, including The Normal Heart (2011 Best Play Revival), Kinky Boots (2013 Best Musical) and Clybourne Park (2012 Best Play), and is currently involved in several film projects. He is a partner at theatrical production company Martian Entertainment LLC and an associate member of The Broadway League.
In 2014, Rae collaborated with Brian W. Johnson ’98 and William Leonhard Jr. (representing his parents’ estate) to endow the Leonhard-Rae-Johnson Chair in support of a distinguished computer science faculty member. Currently, the chair is held by Professor Zachary Dodds.
Lifetime Recognition Award
The Lifetime Recognition Award honors outstanding dedication to Harvey Mudd College. The Board of Governors selected three individuals for the award.
Adelaide Hixon and the Hixon family have been generous, longtime donors to the College, showing a particular commitment to the humanities and social sciences. The Hixons made possible the campus’ scenic Hixon Court, supported the Dotty and Art Campbell Prize for outstanding chemistry students and funded an endowed scholarship, a recurring humanities forum and two professorships. Established in 1990, the Hixon-Riggs Forum for Responsive Science and Engineering links scientific, technological, public policy and ethical issues in innovative ways. To broaden the College’s humanities curriculum, Hixon established the Hixon-Riggs Visiting Professorship, currently held by Alison Cool, professor of sociocultural anthropology.
Recently, Hixon and her grandson Dylan Hixon, a Harvey Mudd trustee, worked with the College to establish the endowed Hixon Professorship of Sustainable Environmental Design in memory of her late husband and former trustee, Alexander Hixon. The professorship, held by Tanja Srebotnjak, provides Harvey Mudd with its first all-College faculty position and will allow Harvey Mudd to promote cutting-edge environmental science and design within the Claremont University Consortium.
Hixon is a recipient of the Order of the Wart (2001), which honors those who have made significant contributions to the College’s alumni. She has been an avid supporter of public radio, serving as an Honorary Life Trustee of the Pasadena, California, public radio station KPCC and as a trustee for Southern California Public Radio.
Violet “Vi” Jabara Jacobs
For her dedication and the support that she—in partnership with her late husband, Joe—provided to the College over many years, the Alumni Association Board of Governors selected Violet Jacobs to receive a Lifetime Recognition Award. Jacobs passed away Jan. 12, 2015, at age 99, shortly after learning that she was to receive the award. Family members will accept the award on her behalf.
Vi began her association with Harvey Mudd in 1973 when her late husband, Joseph J. Jacobs, the founder of Jacobs Engineering, was appointed to the College’s board. Vi and Joe generously supported Harvey Mudd for four decades, and their most visible legacy is the Jacobs Science Center, renamed for the couple during the 1970s after extensive renovations. Their gifts provided students and faculty with better laboratories and offices and supported the endowment, student scholarships and matching funds for gifts received from alumni, faculty and staff.
Joe Jacobs founded Jacobs Engineering in 1947, and Vi was active in building the business from a startup to what is now one of the largest engineering companies in the world. She and Joe were philanthropists, believing that they should return to their country and community a large part of their fortune—a tradition carried on by their children and grandchildren. They set up the Jacobs Family Foundation in 1987 in San Diego and gave generously toward education and the arts. After Joe’s death in 2004, Vi continued to be engaged with the couple’s philanthropic interests as well as some of her own. She was a board member of the Jacobs Family Foundation and founder and board member of the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation. She served as a volunteer for the American Friends Service Committee, the Huntington Hospital and Meals on Wheels and served as secretary for Westminster Presbyterian Church.
Jude P. Laspa ’65
Jude P. Laspa ’65, trustee emeritus, has been a longtime friend and counselor to the College.
Laspa served as a trustee of the College for over two decades, including as vice chair from 2004 until 2010. A valuable resource and sounding board for the administration, Laspa served with distinction on numerous standing committees of the board and chaired the Board Affairs and Educational Planning committees. In 2000, along with his wife, Eileen, Laspa established the Jude and Eileen Laspa Endowed Professorship in Engineering, held by Professor Ziyad Durón ’81. The Laspas were also lead funders on the Iris and Howard Critchell Assistant Professorship and the Ron and Lee Vaughn Endowed Scholarship. In 2004, Laspa was a featured speaker at the Bruce J. Nelson ’74 Distinguished Speaker Series, addressing global technical issues and their social, economic and political challenges.
Jude and Eileen Laspa have also provided significant ongoing financial support to the College’s engineering program on an annual basis since 2010. These funds have supported expanding project-based learning experiences, enabling the development of new curriculum across the program and increasing student exposure to professional engineering practice. Their support has enabled two new Fellowship Programs in Applied Mechanics and Systems Engineering, which expose students to cutting-edge research in these fields. These gifts keep Harvey Mudd at the forefront of undergraduate engineering by attracting highly qualified new faculty and strengthening the infrastructure required to support hands-on experiences for students, including the renowned Clinic program. The Laspas have made an enormous impact on the engineering program’s ability to expand and innovate.
Laspa held many positions—including executive vice president, deputy chief operating officer and director—over his 43-year career at Bechtel, a leading global engineering-construction organization. He has served on the board of directors of the Exploratorium in San Francisco and the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation and is a longtime member of the prestigious California Council on Science and Technology. He is also a member of the board of directors of a number of for-profit companies. Laspa holds an engineering degree, with honors, from Harvey Mudd and an MBA from University of Chicago.